A former Emory University professor has pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return after failing to report income he received in China.

According to a news release, Xiao-Jiang Li, 63, of Atlanta, pleaded guilty to that charge May 8 and was sentenced by a U.S. District Court judge the same day. He was sentenced to one year of probation on a felony charge and was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $35,089.

In addition to working at Emory, Li participated in the Chinese Thousand Talents Program, which recruits researchers, entrepreneurs and inventors from other countries to work in China on their projects. He worked at Chinese universities and did not report any of his foreign income on his federal tax returns.

“The Department of Justice remains vigilant over programs such as the Thousand Talents Program that recruits professors and researchers to work for China,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in the release. “In this case Li was caught in his lack of transparency. We are grateful for the work our partners have done to bring light to this case.”

In the release, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said, “This defendant thought that he could live two, separate lives — one here at Emory University and one in China as a Thousand Talents Program participant. Eventually, the truth caught up to this defendant, and he is now a convicted felon who is ordered to repay over $35,000 to the IRS.”

According to the charges and other information presented in court, in late 2011, while employed at Emory, where he researched the use of large animal models to investigate Huntington’s disease, Li joined the Thousand Talents Program. From 2012 through 2018, he also worked at two Chinese universities — first at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and then at Jinan University — conducting similar large animal model research. Over those six years, Li earned at least $500,000 in foreign income that he never reported on his federal income tax returns.

Li’s false income tax returns came to light after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reviewed Li’s NIH research grant applications and became concerned that he had failed to disclose, among other things, foreign research activity. Those concerns prompted Emory, and later federal law enforcement, to investigate the matter which revealed Li’s false tax returns.

He was also ordered to file lawful income tax returns for the years 2012 through 2018 within the first two months of his probation and fully cooperate with the IRS, in making a complete and accurate determination of all taxes, penalties and interest that he owes.

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